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Portland, OR
USA

I exist to help dads learn to communicate and engage with their young adult daughters.  I provide resources from my vast amounts of research and experience with dads and daughters, and this is the place where you'll find the tools you need to become the hero you've always wanted to be.

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25 Things to Never, Ever, Under Any Circumstance Say to Your Daughter

Michelle Watson

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I’ve had the privilege over the last ten years of fine-tuning my understanding of men through The Abba Project (If you’re new to the conversation, this is the group I lead in Portland, OR for dads with daughters in their teens and 20’s).  

As a result, I believe I’ve grown to understand and appreciate where you as dads are coming from. The truth is that I really enjoy hearing honestly from fathers about what it’s like to be in your shoes, especially as fathers to daughters.

Through my conversations, what I hear repeatedly from men is one of two responses:

  1. Tell it to me straight with as few words as possible (a.k.a. get to the point!)

  2. Tell me what to do to fix it.

In an attempt to prove that I, as a woman, can speak in a way that is straightforward with minimal verbiage, here is my bullet point list of some exact, specific things that you as a dad should never, ever, under any circumstance stay to your daughter. EVER.

 
Why? Because what you say will echo in her head and heart for all eternity and she will never forget what you say, what you believe about her, what you see when you look at her, and what you tell her is true about her. (And sadly, I’ve heard many of these examples in real life).

Why? Because what you say will echo in her head and heart for all eternity and she will never forget what you say, what you believe about her, what you see when you look at her, and what you tell her is true about her. (And sadly, I’ve heard many of these examples in real life).

 

So with as few words as possible, here’s a list of what NOT to say to your daughter:

  • You are one high maintenance girl

  • You have always been the most needy of all our kids

  • Why do you always make mountains out of molehills?

  • You look like you've gained weight

  • (never give her a nickname that emphasizes her size)

  • You got yourself into this mess so don’t come running to me…

  • you have no one to blame but yourself

  • Stop crying…You’re being a big baby

  • Do you know how utterly ridiculous and nonsensical you sound right now?

  • Pull yourself together and when you can talk rationally and clearly, then come talk to me

  • Go talk to your mother…She’ll understand you.

  • I gave up trying with you a long time ago

  • How on earth do you ever expect a man to want to be with you when you act like this?

  • You are wearing me out…I don’t know how much more of you I can take

  • You drive me crazy

  • When are you ever going to start acting your age?

  • You are a spoiled brat

  • I have no idea how you have any friends with the way you act…the real you comes out at home

  • You are a selfish b#%*…can’t you ever think of anyone but yourself?

  • In my house you will act the way I tell you to act

  • Shape up or ship out

  • Do you want a taste of your own medicine?

  • What did I ever do wrong to have to deal with a daughter like you?

  • You are a big disappointment to me

  • You are a disgrace to this family

  • God must regret having made you

  • Why can’t you be more like your brother/sister?

You may think that she’s forgotten what you said because it was a long time ago. I assure you she hasn’t. Humble yourself, go now, and ask forgiveness. It will release both of you.

Let today be the day where the words you speak to her from this day forward are only life-breathing and not akin to anything in the above list.

And for the record, this is the first time you’ve heard me say that failing to say or do something means that you’re at the top of the class!

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(Stay tuned in two weeks for the counter blog titled: “25 Things to ALWAYS Say To Your Daughter”)

It’s Never too Late to Make Amends: A Real Life Dad-Adult Daughter Story

Michelle Watson

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There wasn’t a dry eye in the room. 

As they sat side by side on the platform in front of a packed auditorium, their raw emotion was palatable, expressed visibly as each of them told their story through their tears. We all sat there mesmerized, with an awareness that we were being invited into one of the most honest interactions we’d ever witnessed between a dad and his adult daughter. She went first.

Affirmation. My dad never gave it and still never does. I think that is why I’m never sure I matter. He is available in a variety of ways---there if I want to talk, for example, but not affirming. I can’t even explain the hole I’ve felt in my heart at his lack of affirmation. For many years I didn’t even realize that hole was there. And once I did, I first ignored it and told myself I didn’t care. But eventually it hurt too much to ignore.”

It was my dear friend Constance on the stage that day, her voice cracking as she spoke those words in front of a live audience. In that moment she wasn’t thinking about the fact that she was the CEO of a long-running non-profit organization, an accomplished musician, a vibrant national speaker, an author of two books, or a wife and a mother to three amazing children, notwithstanding the fact that she had coordinated the conference we were all attending. 

 
Right then it was as if she was a ten-year old girl again , acutely in touch with the longings of her heart. She wished for her daddy to notice her, to tell her she was beautiful in his eyes, and to let her know that he had time for her because she was one of the most important priorities in his life.

Right then it was as if she was a ten-year old girl again, acutely in touch with the longings of her heart. She wished for her daddy to notice her, to tell her she was beautiful in his eyes, and to let her know that he had time for her because she was one of the most important priorities in his life.

 

With her dad’s, permission to share these details publicly, she then began reading an email dialogue between she and I that had taken place a couple years earlier with regard to hurts from her father, Dan. Here is some of what I had written to encourage her: 

“Constance, it saddens me to think of how amazing you and your sister are and it breaks my heart to hear that your dad elevates ministry ventures over connecting with the two of you. It shows that he doesn’t have a cup that is full enough to pour into your life. I imagine that he gives you the best that he has and it’s definitely not enough. When he does ministry he must not have to give of himself in the same way he has to as a dad. It must tap into a different place inside of him.”

Looking directly at her father there on the platform, Constance turned and asked him: “Dad, how did it make you feel to hear those emails read?”

With script in hand, Dan read his carefully prepared response to his daughter’s query (she had given him the questions ahead of time so he had ample time to think through his answers): 

I was saddened to realize how much you craved my approval and affirmation and I was oblivious to your need. I was so focused on avoiding the loss of my business of 25 years and losing my home as a result of the ‘Great Recession,’ combined with the concerns of pastoring a new church that I didn’t recognize your need.” 

Then, in her beautifully authentic way, Constance led her dad to dig deeper and share why he agreed to join her there that day to tell their story: 

“Because I love you and you asked me to come. You have asked me before to attend your events and I’ve always had a reason not to attend. But because I now realize how important it is to you, I am making you a priority and accepted your invitation. I recognize mistakes I’ve made in the past and am thankful for the opportunity to make better decisions. You are important to me and I want to affirm you.” 

Dan could hardly get through that part without fighting back tears. As you can imagine, his daughter was right there with him, feeling every word of his heartfelt emotion. He continued:

“I hope that our strengthened relationship will give hope to those in attendance who may be dealing with similar issues with their parents. I also want to bring this to the attention of parents with adult or soon-to-be-adult children so they’ll know that down deep at some level your children still need your approval, your acceptance, your affirmation, and your love. It may not seem like it, but they do.

Then the two of them, as if in a well-choreographed dance, began to tell the backstory of their family history, beginning with Dan marrying Constance’s mom when she was 15 and he was 17, to their divorce 14 years later. They added many more heartbreaking details, including Dan eventually remarrying and starting a new family that didn’t always include his three older children, part of which led Constance to explode at her dad years earlier in a restaurant because of his dismissive responses towards her, an accumulation of hurt that had built up over the years.

 
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By this time we, the audience, were all on the edge of our seats, feeling their pain and distress right along with them. I don’t think there was a dry eye in the place. Dan kept going:

In my mind I thought I was affirming my daughter with my occasional compliments, so with regret I now realize it was not enough to satisfy her need. I was aware that Constance was not happy with me and I honestly didn’t know why. I didn’t realize the depth of her hurt and bitterness. And I will admit that I was raised without much affirmation from my parents and succumbed to the same malady. 

But I can now be painfully honest; I needed to learn to respect my adult children and not just give them unwanted criticism. There is a time parents have to begin to deal with their children on a respect basis; like many, I was late in recognizing this. But I have now!”

It was so refreshing to hear a dad---and a pastor, no less---honestly admitting his failures as a father to his adult daughter out in the open, in front of strangers. There wasn’t defensiveness or mudslinging in an attempt to explain, justify, or qualify his actions. Instead, his honesty and tender willingness to understand how he had hurt his daughter was part of the process that allowed her to continue releasing the hurts that she had carried for so many years. 

Now it was Constance’s turn to respond:

“Even though I was really angry at my dad, for some reason there was also a part of me that wanted to hope for something more. I think it was God in me. He gave me eyes to see my dad in a new light. Through conversations I saw more of the pain and rejection he had carried as a little boy, and also as a father and husband. I also realized that he was actually genuinely ignorant of my need for his affirmation. The more I looked at him through eyes of compassion for his brokenness, the easier it was to believe things could be better.

But the biggest boost to our relationship was that he wanted to change. He was in a season of having retired from work and was looking at his life in new ways and asking God to change him. And that is what I have seen the most these past few years---my dad is ACTIVELY choosing to look at the parts of himself that are not loving, and is open to change.”

Can you hear the softness in her voice that was evident now in the telling of her story? And she didn’t stop there:

“Two years ago I felt God nudging me to pray a prayer of blessing over my dad. Even though I was still holding on to some of the old feelings of bitterness, I started to cry. Something huge shifted in me in that moment. And I noticed a big shift in our relationship ever since. It was like something was loosed when I chose to pray blessing instead of holding on to old bitterness, and I think it meant something in him to hear me do that too. Since that time, I have noticed that my dad frequently tells me that he loves me, and more importantly (at least for me), that he is proud of me.

This has changed not only our relationship, but my relationship with myself. Somehow, knowing that my dad is proud of me has diminished my need to have others be proud of me too. And the more I know that and can rest in his love for me, the better and better our relationship gets.”

 
What  hope  their story brings in highlighting that it’s never too late for a dad and a daughter to mend their relationship. Here is a woman disclosing that it took her until her late 30’s to begin peeling back the layers of her father wounds and voids.

What hope their story brings in highlighting that it’s never too late for a dad and a daughter to mend their relationship. Here is a woman disclosing that it took her until her late 30’s to begin peeling back the layers of her father wounds and voids.

 

But the other amazing reality is that she has a dad who was willing to meet her in that process by also looking at himself and owning his part of the whole.

The lessons I take from their story are numerous. Among them:

  • It’s never too late to heal a broken relationship between a dad and his daughter.

  • In order to move forward, a dad needs to hear the impact of his actions (or inaction) on his daughter’s heart and life…without defensiveness.

  • It takes tremendous courage for a dad to ask God to change him, but if he does, it will yield positive results with children.

  • When a dad opens up about his life (particularly his childhood), it gives his daughter more insight into why he is the way he is.

  • A daughter can ask God to help her look at her dad through the eyes of compassion for his own brokenness as she begins to take steps to forgive him.

  • When a daughter prays for God to bless her father, it helps to release her bitterness.

I want to close by giving Dan the last word---from one dad to another. I hope that his words will touch your heart as a dad so that like him, you will be willing to look within yourself in order to pursue a more vibrant and positive relationship with your daughter:

“Looking back, I can remember the clues she was sending, but at the time I was clueless. It is never too late, and yes, I am committed to continuously changing to conform to God’s will for me as a father. The great thing about God is He wants to restore broken relationships and if we will cooperate with Him, He will change us if we will pray for those we have hurt or been hurt by. Then God will begin a work of restoration in them because with God, all things are possible.”

Well said, Dan. And on behalf of daughters everywhere, I want to give you my most sincere thanks for your humble willingness to honestly admit your shortcomings as a father, coupled with publicly modeling what it looks like for a dad to actively turn his heart toward his grown-up girl. 

Your story gives us all great hope that we ever too old to change…whether a dad or an adult daughter.

Throw or Tell: A Fathering Lesson about Rocks

Michelle Watson

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Most every man I’ve known has played with rocks during his childhood. I’m guessing you did too. Maybe it’s the whole made-from-the-dust-of-the ground thing that is inherent in the male population to draw them to the earth. Who knows?! 

And even though you probably know more about rocks than I do and don’t need a geology lesson, I’ll still continue by stating the obvious. Here are some things that can be done with rocks. You can:

1. Throw them. (Of course this is the number one answer I hear from men when I ask them this question.) 

2. Skip them (across water).

3. Construct something with them. 

But the thing that usually isn’t mentioned is: 

4. Build something, namely a monument. 

Let me tell you the prompt for this last action step. It actually comes from a story in the Bible from when God led His people (Israelites) to cross the Jordan River as He held back the water until all of them passed through the riverbed. Let’s pick up the story with their leader Joshua giving instructions to the men: 

“Each of you is to take up a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the Israelites, to serve as a sign among you. In the future, when your children ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’ tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever.” (Joshua 4:5-7)

 
One thing I love about this story is that the challenge from God to dads includes both building  and  telling.

One thing I love about this story is that the challenge from God to dads includes both building and telling.

 

First off, these dads are holding rocks on their shoulders and carrying them to the other side of the river in order to build something that will stand as a forever memorial. These fathers and their children had to have been walking side by side and interacting throughout the process. Seems like a great fathering model, don’t you think? 

And secondly, these fathers were instructed to tell their kids the story for years to come of the miracle that happened. And because we all know that kids love to ask questions, there is no doubt that this story was told repeatedly…by dad

As we can see, the rocks served as a reminder of the story that accompanied them. And this gave me an idea for a way to bring this idea into the twenty-first century.

Dad, what if you started a tradition where every time God did a big miracle in your family—like unexpectedly providing money to pay a huge bill or healing someone in a powerful way or answering a specific prayer or observing a milestone in your children’s lives—you took your kids to a quarry or a Home Improvement Store (like Home Depot or Lowe’s) and together you all picked out a sizable stone to commemorate the event? 

Then, just like these dads did centuries ago, you can build and tell simultaneously. 

 
Think about what this would be like if each time something significant happened in your family, a rock was added to an ever-growing monument that you build with your kids where future generations will hear the stories that each rock represents.

Think about what this would be like if each time something significant happened in your family, a rock was added to an ever-growing monument that you build with your kids where future generations will hear the stories that each rock represents.

 

And through it all, dad, you are the one leading the experience, just like the Israelite men of the Old Testament. 

So instead of just skipping and throwing rocks with your kids, why not let the rocks tell the story as together you build with those rocks while telling your kids the story of God’s faithfulness again and again.

And now to close with the cheesiest ending ever, yet one I just can’t resist: Dads who invite their children to respond to God alongside them ROCK!

(Excerpt adapted from my book, Dad, Here’s What I Really Need from You: A Guide for Connecting with Your Daughter’s Heart, chapter 43).

Dad: Do Your Eyes Light Up When You See Her?

Michelle Watson

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I don’t know if you’re a Dustin Hoffman fan, but I’ve loved his work ever since he took on the role of an autistic savant in Rain Man back in the late 80’s. He has an extraordinary gift of fully stepping into the characters he portrays, which was made evident when he donned the quirky role of a 243-year-old eccentric toy store owner in Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium.

I absolutely love this movie and want to take you beyond his character for a moment to focus on his young apprentice named Molly Mahoney, played by the beautiful Natalie Portman. Though an accomplished pianist, she lacked confidence in her musical abilities and is forced to come face-to-face with her debilitating insecurities.

Described as “needing an opportunity to prove that she is more than she believes,” Mr. Magorium creates a so-called “opportunity” for Molly to embrace her inner strength and innate potential by announcing that he’s retiring and leaving the toy store to her. He wants her to rise to the occasion and discover what he has seen in her all along.

But instead of pushing through her immobilizing fears, she walks away from the opportunity. She doesn’t believe she has what it takes to succeed. (This is a common reality for most girls, especially during adolescence, when they don’t know how to fully stand in their truth…and that’s when they need more support, which is where you come in, dad.)

As Molly wrestles with finding her place in her own life story, she turns to an accountant named Henry (played by Jason Bateman). and with her eyes cast downward, asks him, “What do you see in me?”

 
As a guy, he doesn’t really understand what she means, and tells her so. Then she rephrases her question and asks,   “Do I sparkle?”    I am struck by her question.  I truly believe this is a universal question tucked inside every daughter, even if she hasn’t quite put it into those words.

As a guy, he doesn’t really understand what she means, and tells her so. Then she rephrases her question and asks, “Do I sparkle?”

I am struck by her question. I truly believe this is a universal question tucked inside every daughter, even if she hasn’t quite put it into those words.

 

“Being the sparkle in someone’s eye” is something my dear friend and colleague, Dr. Jim Friesen, talks about in his book, The Life Model: Living from the Heart Jesus Gave You. He says that some neurologists describe this concept as our most basic human need: Not only to be that sparkle, but to feel the joy inside when someone lights up upon seeing us.

Because little children can feel this joy in loving relationships, Jim says that much of life is spent trying to reconnect with that feeling. Life makes so much more sense when people around us reflect back the authentic joy that comes from simply seeing us and being with us. There is healing power in this life-breathing exchange.

Jim goes on to say that because joy is relational, it is also a contagious experience. Joy is produced when someone is “glad to see me,” which then stirs up a bit of joy in me. And when my joy is returned, there is an increase in the giver’s joy as well. It’s a reciprocal dynamic.

This experience goes back and forth at amazingly fast rates—six cycles per second in a nonverbal, face-to-face exchange—all the time creating a stronger joy interaction between both people. Isn’t that incredible? Former Abba Project Dad Steve told me this is one of the most powerful things he’s ever heard as he seeks to relate even better to his two adult daughters.

So what does this mean for you as a dad with your daughter?

Here are some important things for you to know:

  1. She is innately wired with the need to be the sparkle in someone’s eyes.

  2. If not yours, she will be drawn to someone, anyone, who will light up upon seeing her.

  3. Your visual delight upon seeing her will deposit worth and value into the core of her being.

  4. If you actively reflect back to her the joy you feel when you look into her eyes, it will build her self-esteem as a gift from you to her.

I believe that every girl needs to be the sparkle (or the light) in her dad’s eyes. You were the first man who saw her and knew her and embraced her and celebrated her. She will turn less to the counterfeit if she has experienced the real thing with you.

Connect with your daughter today and let her know that you delight in her, whether in person or through a text or phone call.

And if the two of you are separated by distance, such that she can’t watch you light up when seeing her today, at least she’ll be able to read your words if you write them. Your written words will tide her over until the next time you have your face-to-face interaction.

Let the life-breathing exchange begin!

Six Words That Will Make You a Better Dad

Michelle Watson

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Are you old enough to remember the craze in the 60’s and 70’s where really cool prizes (a.k.a. “cheap gimmicks”) were tucked inside cereal boxes?  I can still see my sister and I begging my mom to buy the cereal with the most alluring prizes, regardless of whether we even liked it (which I’m sure set a foundation that thrives to this day because I’m still a sucker for a deal!).  

One of my all-time favorite prizes was a decoder ring that I somehow believed would instantaneously transform me into Sherlock Holmes because I had the cryptic tool for solving the mysteries on the back of the box (it’s amazing how inexpensive toys brought such joy back then…but that’s another story for another day).

The thing that sticks out in my mind about decoder rings is that they instantly provide the link between the problem and the solution. Without the magic ring the problem is left unsolved and unanswered.  

If you’re a dad to a daughter, the question I pose to you is this: Do you ever wish you had a decoder ring to better translate, understand, and relate to her?  

If you’re anything like the dads of daughters I lead in The Abba Project (a group for dads with girls between the ages of 13 and 30) you are often left scratching your head as your daughter matures into her teen years and beyond, sometimes wondering where “daddy’s little girl” went. As your potential confusion rises, it can easily lead you to make a reactive decision where you back away while turning to mom and saying, “here, you’re a girl---you go in.”  

Child psychologist Dr. James Dobson poses a powerful question: What does a girl need from her parents when everything has gone topsy-turvy?  The answer: more attachment, not less.  

To further underscore the point he adds, “Even when she is most unlovable, she needs love and connectedness not only from her mother but also from her father.

 
So what do you need to be a dialed-in dad who is sensitive to your ever-changing daughter even with all of her up’s and down’s?

So what do you need to be a dialed-in dad who is sensitive to your ever-changing daughter even with all of her up’s and down’s?

 

I believe the answer is tucked inside an obscure story in the middle of the book of Joshua (by the way, even if you’re not one to crack open the Bible I hope you’ll hang in here and keep reading. It’s a really cool narrative…I promise!)

This is a story about an incredible dad who got it right with his daughter. He says six words that, if emulated, will make you a better dad starting today.

Quick backstory: Caleb is an Israelite spy who, along with his friend Joshua, went on a journey to check out what was called “the Promised Land” to find out if it was inhabitable. After their exploration there was one BIG problem: there were giants living in it. But instead of being intimidated, these two guys saw with eyes of faith and believed that God would give them the land regardless of overwhelming odds. 

Fast forward to a later time when Caleb is interacting with his married daughter Achsah. Just like her visionary dad, she was a courageous woman who wasn’t afraid to ask for what she wanted. It’s obvious that her dad had modeled to her what it meant to be bold and forthright. 

Let’s pick up the story in Joshua 15. “One day when Achsah came to her husband, she urged him to ask her father for a field. When she got off her donkey, Caleb asked her,

What can I do for you?”

I love that question from dad to daughter. It’s so simple yet so profound. These are six words that every dad should memorize and use regularly. I believe they will positively impact the way your daughter interacts with you if you put them into practice.

Notice that this dad brought himself to his daughter’s problem. He was willing to invest his time and his resources to help her, all before he knew what it was she even wanted.

Here is Achsah’s response to her dad’s question: “Do me a special favor. Since you have given me land in the Negev, give me also springs of water.” 

She obviously had a foundation of relationship to ask her dad for “a special favor.” She knew he would listen. She had no fear of asking for something in addition to the first gift he’d already given her.  She trusted that he would respond.

The amazing thing is that he does it for her. We read that “Caleb gave her the upper and lower springs.”  

Do you notice how easily she responded to her dad’s question about what she wanted  without holding back

Do you notice how he offers himself as the solution to her request?

Do you notice how he gives his daughter more than she asked for?

Who would have thought that a father from 16th century BC could provide such a profound six-word code that dads in the 21st century could use to unlock their daughters’ hearts?  

Dad, I encourage you to begin making these six words a regular part of your interactions with your daughter: “What can I do for you?” 

It’s not about throwing things at her; it’s about bringing YOU to the relationship. I guarantee that these few words will be a game-changer in the way your daughter responds to you.

Hugs that Heal

Michelle Watson

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I read a story a couple of years ago in Father Wounds by Francis Anfuso that has stayed with me ever since. Some stories have a powerful way of doing that, especially when they go straight to the heart.

Today I shared this with a man who unexpectedly found himself tearing up while hearing it. Because of his response, I figured it would be good to share it with you.

A few years ago a pastor named George Brantley spoke on the topic of fathering to a student body of 1,100 at a Christian college in Texas. After spending two days with them he ended by offering a “safe hug” to anyone who needed one.

The author stated that “what happened next was both tragic and astounding.”

One by one, hundreds of young men and women made their way to the front of the auditorium while many stood in line for over three hours, all to experience a “safe hug” from this man. Apparently there were so many who sobbed on George’s shoulders that it literally ruined his jacket and shirt.

I’m struck by the way that this father figure showed up in real time with a real gift of his presence. As a result, kids who weren’t his own were drawn like a magnet to him. There was such a powerful longing for the strong arms of a safe man to wrap themselves around these students that they waited for hours just to receive this small deposit into their emotional bank account.

 
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All he did was offer to put his arms around them in a gesture that affirmed and communicated love. The result? They lined up and waited their turn. For hours. All for a hug.

My friend Paul Young is like that. Some would say that his hugs heal. I can affirm that his hugs have definitely been healing for me. I’ve told him that I describe them as “holy hugs” because they have a way of drawing me to God the Father’s embrace.

Paul says you can tell a lot about a person through a hug. He’s held people for twenty or thirty minutes, even longer, as they sob into him. He doesn’t need to say a word because he hears the language of their tears. His presence speaks louder than any words anyway.

Safe hugs have a way of doing that, even without verbiage. They touch the depths of who we are and warmly say that it’s going to be okay, and more importantly, that we’re worth loving.

Dad, your daughter needs your physical, loving arms around her. Daily.

And she doesn’t need you to be perfect; she just needs you to be present.

And this is the kind of “present” where you show up in physical form with hugs ready. No words required.

Ready. Set. Hug!

Thinking Backward

Michelle Watson

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If you’ve ever played sports (which I assume includes all of you in one way or another), you know that every single time you step onto the field or court, you always know where the goal is. Always. 

The goal has everything to do with the direction you run, the points you make (or miss), and whether you win or lose.

The energy you expend is always oriented toward the goal because that’s where the points are. That’s what counts.

Without a clear goal, you can’t play the game. 


Without a clear goal, you can’t win the game. 


With your daughter, it’s the same way.

As you think about “the game you’re playing” (I’m using game as a metaphor to capture the essence of the interpersonal dynamic between the two of you, not as something fake in your relationship), are you clear about the goal you have in your relationship with her?

I can’t think of too many dads I’ve met who are clear about the goal or outcome they are shooting for with their daughter. Maybe a general idea, but not a specific goal. 

And for a goal to work, it has to be clear, specific, measurable, and achievable. 

Dad, I ask you this: Have you taken the time to honestly and directly state for yourself your goals as a father with your daughter? 

Using the sports analogy above, it may help to think of it like this:  If your end goal is to launch your daughter at the age of 18 as a healthy, confident, authentic, clear-minded, and vibrant young woman who is ready to take on the world, what are you currently doing to help her get there? Or let’s break it down further, what is your “half time assessment plan” if she is nine years old and you’re half way there? 

I’m going to add one more layer to this concept of goal setting with your daughter. I call it thinking backward.

This time I recommend that you think about not just the here and now, but also about the future. It can be a new way of looking at the present by imagining the end of your life and thinking backward from then to now. I’m not trying to be morbid. Just stating a reality that we all have to face.

We all leave a legacy. One way or another, we leave an imprint. 

So I invite you to ask yourself a tough question, one that will allow you to be brutally honest with yourself while sitting in the reality that you are leaving a legacy for good or bad, whether you want to or not.

What do you want your legacy to look like? For real.

You will literally change the course of history through your active engagement with your daughter at the heart level. She will carry you with her after you leave this earth. Your legacy will live on through her in proportion to your heart investment in her.

Though you won’t be around forever physically, you will be around forever in the deposit you leave in your daughter’s life. A theory in the field of psychology claims that some adults have an internalized parent who lives on inside them. Long after that parent is gone, the adult child may still seek to please the parent who is no longer around to see the performance.  So again I ask you:  What are you doing now to make sure your daughter hears your encouraging, supportive, loving, grace-filled, validating, inspiring, and motivating voice in her head forever?

Carefully consider the following statement, and then finish the sentence in your own words:

 

At the end of my life, if my daughter had only one thing to say about me, I want it to be...

  

 

Looking at the response you just wrote, is it a head response or a heart response? I know you wrote a heart response. How do I know that? Because every dad I’ve ever invited to finish this sentence has written a heart response.

Here are some of the things I’ve heard dads say they hope their daughters would say about them at the end of their lives:

“There isn’t anything he wouldn’t do or give for me, even at a cost to himself.”

“I never doubted his love for me.”

“I knew he adored me.”

“He loved the Lord with all his heart and soul, and he loved me in the same way.”


Dad, if I could take one more minute of your time I want to encourage you to take what you wrote in the box above and break it down into three action steps. (Remember that action heroes have to take action in order to be a hero).

For example, if you wrote that you want your daughter to know you love her, write how your love will look. Be specific. You might write something like this:

  1. I will drive her to school every Friday while stopping at Starbucks on the way so we have a tradition that is ours and ours alone.

  2. I will take her on a dad-daughter date once a month as a way to let her know by my actions that she is worth my time, money, and energy.

  3. I will write her a letter every year on her birthday to tell her the exact ways I’ve seen her grow in that year while making sure she hears why she is special to me.

Do you see how the concept of love grew legs by the action plan that accompanied it?

 

The ways I will put my goal into action this week with my daughter are:

1. 

2. 

3. 

 

I trust that this exercise of thinking backwards will be one that now guides your action steps in the present. I’m cheering you on from here. Go Dad!

Three Little Words That Will Change Your Daughter's Life (and they're not "I love you")

Michelle Watson

My dad, like every other dad, has things he’s done right and things he’s done wrong when it comes to parenting.

There are things he’s proud of (especially the things that were 180 degrees different from what his dad modeled to him---like taking us on vacations, eating meals as a family, and doing dad-daughter dates) while there are other things he’d rather forget (like angry outbursts, harsh responses to his tender-hearted daughters, and times that full-time ministry got in the way). 

But from my vantage point as a daughter there is one thing in particular that my dad did right, one thing that stands out among the rest, one thing that has touched my heart deeply and has gone a long way to remedy the mistakes, blunders, and the wishes for do-overs. 

It’s a little three-word response that my dad has said so many times over the years that I’ve lost count by now. They are simply:

"Anything for you."

I wish I could play you a sound bite so you could hear his tone of voice when saying these words, but I assure you that they’re always said in a really kind way. I don’t know how he’s pulled it off for decades now, but this is truly where he’s gotten it right time and again.

These words are grace.  
These words are mercy.
These words are generous.
These words are unmerited favor.
These words are good for my heart

Really good. The hot-fudge-with-whipped-cream-and-sprinkles kind of good.

 
I can’t explain how three little words change everything, but they do.

I can’t explain how three little words change everything, but they do.

 

I’m guessing there are times my dad truly hasn’t wanted to step up to the plate and give of himself to meet my needs, but he doesn’t let me know that part. He just says these three magic words and gives them as a gift to me (which he still does to this day!).

And because my “emergencies” and his schedule haven’t always lined up, his sacrificial “anything for you” stance has communicated that I am still a priority even though I’m a grown woman----whether it’s been my broken down car on the side of the road or my water heater that went out at 9 pm. and meant he had to drive over late at night to fix it (when he’d rather be winding down and heading to bed) or the times he’s insisted on mowing my lawn despite his hip causing him pain. He’s cared about the things that matter to me.

You may not know this, but my dad literally lacked a role model in the fathering department. 

His dad was an alcoholic and abandoned the family when he was only seven or eight years old.  Suffice it to say, being a father was the last thing my dad had a clue about, especially being the father to four girls! But somehow he learned (and was willing to learn) from watching other dads, which proves that any dad can turn things around in his generation regardless of the template he’s been given…or not been given.

Now I want to be honest with you for a minute while giving you a female perspective. Sometimes life has a way of communicating a message to us as women that tells us that we ask too much. For me personally (when this view is in the forefront), I wind up believing that I need to prove that I’m tough and that I can navigate things on my own without asking anyone for help, let alone my dad. 

 
 

But this really isn’t healthy. Or good. Or realistic. 

t’s actually a disastrous paradigm because we’re created to need connection and relationship. 

Dad, you have the power and the privilege to meet your daughter’s needs, whether or not they seem legitimate or a high priority to you. Listen to what she says and then offer to come alongside and offer your help.

Why not take the step today and add this life-changing verbal triad to your repertoire. 

Then you’ll get to watch the core of your daughter’s being take flight as she hears you respond to her requests---whether convenient or inconvenient for you---as you say these three little, yet BIG, words:  

  Anything for you.”

Dadvice: Soften Your Tone

Michelle Watson

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I am hopeful by now that you, Dad, really know that I’m one of your biggest fans.  

To underscore that fact, I have a tagline on my website that truly captures my heart, which is simply this: Helping Dads Become Heroes.

You’ve heard me say time and again that in order to be a hero, you have to take action. Think:  Superman, Batman, Spiderman, Iron Man. Now think: You.

Truth be told, superheroes can’t hold a candle to you because you have the ability to take your superpowers and use them to touch your daughter’s heart and life in profound, forever ways. 

You as a superhero are the first man to love your daughter and that is your most incredible superpower!

I know that you want to see your daughter grow and bloom and soar. I believe your deepest desire is to mold and shape her in ways that hold her in good stead throughout her life.

Yet because you’re a mere mortal and not super human, your mask and your armor come off when you get home. That’s where things sometimes don’t always line up between your head and your heart. That’s where the emotional switch gets flipped on and buttons get pushed. That’s where you say things you later regret, leading to the need for making amends.

If I could offer one piece of advice to help you achieve your goal of being the best dialed-in dad you can be, I would say this:

Soften your tone.

Or to say it another way: Your daughter will hear you differently if the tone of your voice is more gentle and kind. In essence, your tone changes your tune.

I realize the word soft isn’t the most masculine of terms and yet if you want to see better results in the quality of your relationship with your daughter, trust me when I say it’s worth the work to hone this skill because your interactions will thrive as a result.

Over time I’ve come to discover, both from interacting with dads and daughters, that men don’t always realize how their intense their vocal tone actually is. In one felt swoop, those forceful words cut like a knife to the heart. To her heart.

Oftentimes as men you think you’re talking in a gentle tone to your daughters, but to them it sounds like a harsh command. They hear your words as an order being barked at them. And I know you don’t hear it that way, which then leaves you confused because your sons never seem to have a problem when you talk to them like that, right?

 
Though fathers sometimes say that their daughters are the ones who have the tone problem because of their big emotional reactive responses, I would suggest that change has to start with you.   If you stay soft, she will calm down…eventually.

Though fathers sometimes say that their daughters are the ones who have the tone problem because of their big emotional reactive responses, I would suggest that change has to start with you. If you stay soft, she will calm down…eventually.

 

So how do you activate this stance of softening your tone?

1. Give yourself a time out.
I suggest taking a break from the interaction that is synonymous with your age. I know that might sound crazy, but it works in the same way with adults as kids. If you’re 50, then you need 50 minutes after being frustrated or enraged to calm down. Decide here on the front end that you will discipline, correct, or instruct when you’re angry and emotionally activated. Walk away and come back later. That way there’s less chance of saying something you’ll regret. It’s always a good idea to wait until your emotional midbrain has returned to its normal state before engaging in a potentially intense interaction. 

2. Find another dad to be accountable to.
I continue to be aware that men are highly motivated when there is competition and/or camaraderie. So why not find another father who is working on softening his tone and then challenge each other to change the way you interact with your kids. Touch base at least once a month and encourage each other to stay the course.

3. Ask your daughter for periodic feedback.
Since your goal is to nurture her heart space, why not use her feedback as a template to gauge how you’re really doing. Let her know you’re working on softening your tone and then invite her to give you input on your progress. This will add yet another layer of accountability as you ask your daughter to weigh in.

I have yet to meet a father or a daughter who doesn’t want their relationship to be healthier and stronger. And I have yet to meet a father or a daughter who isn’t happier and more hopeful when their relationship is on track and in harmony. 

But if the bridge has been bombed out between the two of you due to this exact issue of heart hurts due to harsh responses, there’s no better time than the present to soften your tone and change the dance.

She’ll be glad you did. And so will you.

Dear Dad...What I Wish I'd Said to You Years Ago

Michelle Watson

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We’re just one week away from Father’s Day, and today I’m inviting you into my personal, vulnerable space by letting you read this heartfelt letter I wrote to my dad for Father’s Day a couple of years ago. And rest assured that much of what he’s done to invest in me over the years were things that I wasn’t necessarily thinking were significant at the time. That part came later. I trust this will encourage you dads to keep staying the course as you make forever deposits in your daughter’s life, choosing to believe that the day will come when she will look back and remember.

Dear Dad…
Sometimes the beauty of growing older means that things look different from this angle. I know I’ve thanked you for your consistent investment in my life many times over the years, but this year I want to highlight some things that maybe I’ve not fully appreciated until now.

Thank you…
…for choosing, along with mom, to let my birth happen. Even after finding out that you were pregnant with me before you were married, you took the high road and allowed for me to be born. People weren’t open about those things in 1960 and I am deeply grateful that you chose life.

Thank you…
…for letting me fall asleep on your chest, even as a newborn, because apparently it was one of the only places I could settle down.

Thank you…
…for getting on the floor to wrestle with me, lifting me “high in the sky,” and actually enjoying our time together while we laughed and played even after you’d had a long day at work.

Thank you…
…for taking me to the park and hiding coins in the bark dust, letting me believe that it all magically appeared out of nowhere, which made me feel like the richest girl on the block (now that I think about it, I still am).

Thank you…
…for making up bedtime stories while we girls placed an imaginary “thinking cap” on the top of your head, an enchanted hat by which the all-time best stories were birthed from you because you loved seeing your girls giggle, imagine, and dream.

Thank you…
…for going the extra mile to build unique and spectacular things that made your daughter’s childhood a bit better---like putting wheels on a milk crate and attaching handlebars to the top so we had an incredible, one-of-a-kind scooter that was the envy of the neighborhood to putting a light bulb inside our kitchen cupboard which transformed it into the most fantastic fort that ever existed.

Thank you…
…for years of courageously accepting your role as the infamous “cutter-of-my-bangs.” And for the record, I do forgive you for the innumerable times that the final result turned out less than we’d hoped for due to my cowlick. My fifth grade school photo, however, doesn’t feel the same way.

Thank you…
…for making it a priority to lead our annual all-day trek to find the perfect Christmas tree two hours away while creating a fun tradition of singing songs at the top of our lungs in the car, songs that still make Christmas special when I hear them. (“I saw mommy kissing Santa Claus” and “All I want for Christmas is my two front teeth” were two of our greatest hits, don’t you think?)

 
 

Thank you…
…for creating memories with us girls that were 180 degrees different from what your dad did with you (or more accurately, didn’t do with you), making a concerted effort to walk in the opposite direction of the hand you were dealt while investing time and energy to be a dialed-in dad.

Thank you…
…for taking me on my first date to the Rheinlander restaurant when I was 16 and making me wait in the car until you came around and opened the door, telling me that you wanted me to never settle for a guy who didn’t do the same.

Thank you…
…for recusing me on the freeway when my car broke down and all I could do was cry, never lecturing me or making me feel embarrassed for not being more courageous, strong or mature.

Thank you…
…for wiping my tears and rescuing me when my heart was broken down after a breakup…or two…or three…and reminding me that any guy who’d have the privilege of dating me would be the lucky one.

Thank you…
…for repairing every broken thing inside and outside my house that has ever needed your inventive, inexpensive, impressive, and ingenious fixes.

Thank you…
…for taking me to Nordstrom for the past 25+ years at Christmastime where together we’ve smelled more scents than we could ever count while creating one of the best traditions ever: Perfume Day! Every bottle that you’ve bought me is a fragrant reminder of your love for me, a love that sacrificially enjoys spoiling me in a way that says I’m valued in a big, big way.

Thank you…
…for never giving up on me and for your ongoing pursuit of a relationship with me that’s been consistent throughout my entire life, even with all my emotional up’s and down’s and even during times where we’ve bonked heads and disagreed, always showing me that a dad’s love lasts through it all.

Dad, I know that words can’t truly express how much I love you, but from the depths of my heart I want you to know that you mean the world to me! And in case I don’t tell you enough, just remember again today how grateful I am for every single deposit you’ve made in my life through the years, big and small.

Happy Fathers Day, Dad!